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What Should I Know About Bhutan?

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  • Written By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 18 July 2014
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The Kingdom of Bhutan is a landlocked nation located in the Himalaya mountains. It borders China and India, and has historically been known by a number of names. It has been called Lho Mon, meaning "southern land of darkness," Lho Tsendenjong, or "southern land of the Tsenden cypress," and Lhomen Khazhi, which means "southern land of four approaches." Bhutanese refer to their nation as Druk Yul, or "land of the thunder dragon."

The early history of Bhutan is not clear, since many historical records were destroyed by fire in 1827 in Punakha, the ancient capital. It is known that Padma Sambhava, a Buddhist saint passed through the area in 747 CE, and various sects of Buddhism began to emerge in the area. During this time it was ruled by different Tibetan and Mongolian overlords. After the Mongol rule began to decline, these different Buddhist groups began to battle for rule, until the Drukpa sub-sect gained power in the sixteenth century.

For the next century, the area was made up of various fiefdoms until the Tibetan military leader and lama Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal unified the area. Namgyal implemented a series of laws and built a network of fortresses, many of which still exist, to protect the country. In 1621, when Namgyal died the country fell into civil war. The area was then unsuccessfully attacked by Tibet in 1710 and again, with Mongol help, in 1730.

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In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, Bhutan had many border disputes with neighboring countries, and finally signed the Treaty of Sinchula with British India. Eventually, in 1870, internal power struggles led to another civil war, resulting in Ugyen Wangchuck, the governor of Tongsa, gaining power. He signed a treaty with Great Britain which technically let Great Britain direct the country's foreign affairs, taking away its complete sovereignty.

When India gained independence, it began a friendly relationship with Bhutan, which it modernize. In 1953, the Bhutanese legislature was established, and in 1971, Bhutan was admitted to the United Nations. In 1998, Bhutanese King Jigme Singye Wangchuck implemented political reforms leading to more democracy. Elections for the National Council were first held in 2007, and elections for the National Assembly were held in 2008.

The country remains one of the least developed and most isolated countries left on earth, and its government seems to prefer it that way. A ban on television and Internet access was only lifted in 1999, making it one of the last countries on earth to gain access to television.

The geography of Bhutan ranges from Himalayan peaks in the northern part of the country to subtropical plains in the southern area. The national religion is Mahayana Buddhism, and the country's population is primarily Buddhist. Although the Ngultrum is the national currency, the Indian rupee is also accepted.

Bhutan has one of the world's smallest economies, but it is growing rapidly, with an average yearly income of $1,321 US Dollars per year in 2006. The economy is based primarily on forestry, tourism, agriculture, and hydroelectric power, which is sold to India. Since roads are limited and railway systems are non-existent, exportation is limited.

The country of Bhutan considers happiness more important than Gross National Product. In a survey by the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, Bhutan had the honor of being ranked the 8th happiest place in the world. In fact, it has tried to measure the country's Gross National Happiness (GNH), although there is no set formula for the GNH.

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Discuss this Article

anon46013
Post 2

Hi, thanks for the interesting article. I always find it interesting, however, that articles on Bhutan tend to skirt the issue of Bhutan expelling thousands of Bhutanese of Nepali origin during the 1980s. Known as Lhotsampas, they were officially accorded Bhutanese nationality in 1958. However, the government later reneged on this agreement and took the position that they were illegal immigrants. As such, the Lhotsampas were forcibly evicted from the country in an act of ethnic cleansing with detailed incidents being reported in journals such as the Washington Post. In order to enforce the government decision, security forces were mobilised against the Lhotsampas. A former Bhutanese national by the name of Dorge Gurung was quoted as saying, "They were threatening us. In the census, they were saying that within fifteen days we had to leave the country; otherwise, we would be shot or tortured." Under this persecution, Southern Bhutanese were deported to Nepal where they were admitted into camps run by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). While the Bhutanese government's focus on happiness is commendable, it makes one wonder if they ever bothered to ask the expelled Lhotsampas what their "Gross National Happiness" is? Cute phrases are all very nice but do not, unfortunately, cover up acts of ethnic cleansing.

anon5540
Post 1

Hi, I am from India, Bhutan's neighbour.I have visited Bhutan quite a number of times and back in adjacent areas of India, like Jalpaiguri and Kochbehar Dist, Bhutani currency has equal acceptability as Indian rupee.

You must mention about Bhutan's Druk products, part of commercialisation of agricultural products which have given a shape to their economy. The product is highly popular in Indian market, which means it has been accepted by a sizeable population.

I liked your article. People should know about more and more people and places on this earth and Bhuatanis also have got every right to be known to others. You can find out facts about their press, they have only one newspaper, run by royal family and giving news only about them.

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